Witness re-lives hostage drama
Wife of Imlay area veterinarian testifies of harrowing ordeal
May 16, 2007LAPEER — Was it meant to be a shootout with police, murder-suicide attempt or hostage situation that failed?
Testimony at the preliminary hearing of a 43 year-old Imlay City veterinarian, accused of holding his wife hostage in their Country Pride Lane home on Jan. 31, suggests a heavily-armed Kurt Henkel was prepared to go down fighting, no matter how the scenario played out.
"I'm not walking out of here tonight," Henkel told his wife, Amber, 24, after handcuffing her to a pole in their basement, she said during testimony Friday in Judge Laura Barnard's courtroom.
He proceeded to stack boxes, creating a barricade between him and the basement steps, and loaded extra magazines into some of the four weapons he'd taken from two gun safes, Amber said. He also had a knife in his possession.
"I just didn't know what he needed them for," Amber said of the weapons.
But when deputies from the Lapeer County Sheriff's Department forcibly entered the home and began searching for the couple, Amber feared for the officers' safety as they attempted to enter the basement.
"I shouted for them to stop," she recalled.
Later, her husband would use those weapons to threaten her life as he attemped to access her cell phone's voicemail. Henkel was jealous of her outgoing personality, Amber believed, and suspected she was going to leave him. Although she claimed there were no incriminating messages in her voicemail, Amber refused to give him the correct four-digit access code.
"It was my only way out," she said of the phone.
That's when he became angry, she said, and fired one of the guns in her direction. The shot pierced a box within arm's length of where Amber was detained. Soon after, he held the knife to her chest, again demanding the code.
"I begged him to let me go," she said.
Eventually, Henkel undid one of the handcuffs and she unlocked the other. Amber convinced him to walk with her to the steps, unarmed. She said she dared not turn her back to him.
According to police reports, Henkel gave himself up to police about a half-hour later.
The struggle began in the Henkel's bedroom when Kurt attempted to snap the handcuffs on Amber's arms. She freed herself from a bedpost through which he'd placed the cuffs and almost escaped through the front door. He managed to grab her arm and steer her back toward the bedroom, but not before she grabbed his cell phone, briefly reaching 911.
"He kept saying 'you're not leaving me,''' she said.
In negotiations with police, Henkel suggested he might have left a bomb at his daughter's day care in Lapeer. Police cleared and searched the building, but nothing was found.
The couple was married in June 2005. Amber confirmed on the stand that she has filed for divorce.
Barnard dropped charges of torture to unlawful imprisonment, a 15 year felony. Henkel also faces two counts of felonious assault, discharge of a firearm in a building and false report of a bomb threat—all four year felonies. Additional charges of felony firearm and telephone tapping are each two year felonies, Assistant Prosecutor Steve Beatty said.
Henkel will be arraigned May 29 in Judge Nick Holowka's courtroom. His $1 million bond will be continued.
Defense attorney Robert Schellig said that his client is being treated for a mental illness, but in April, forensic experts found Henkel competent to stand trial.
Prior to the incident, Henkel was employed at the Imlay City Veterinary Clinic.